I was recently inspired by an e-newsletter sent out by Shannon, the founder of Factory 45. She talked about the pressure of feeling that she had to write a business plan for a new company she was launching years ago and how much of a waste of time it ended up being.
I couldn’t agree more. Sat Nam babe has been in business for about one year and still doesn’t have a business plan. Think about it. Why do you need a business plan these days? Sure, certain situations, such as perhaps applying for a bank loan or going after venture capital funding need it, but many times, it’s putting the cart before the horse.
These days, with easy access to people on social media and technology that allows you to launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) fast, you can test your concept in market and pivot as needed much quicker and cheaper than in the past. One of the best early things I could have done was read The Lean Startup (or just read the cliff notes online). The book talks about the importance of an MVP and launching in market as quickly as possible/testing the concept.
Think about it: Who knows if anyone will even buy your product until you start testing your MVP in real time in the market?
Here are 5 steps to launch an MVP as quickly as possible (and how long each step should take, so you can be held accountable!):
Poll people early on – you’ll be surprised at how much you learn
Come up with a few questions you’d like insight on related to your idea. Survey and talk to friends, family and acquaintances. Set up a free Type Form survey with the goal to poll 75 people AND talk to a handful of people in person/over phone who you *think* will be your target audience (it will likely adjust over time, but it’s a good starting point for initial feedback). Listen, gather information and learn from their responses, which is critical in the early stages of business idea formation. You cannot work in a bubble, you need to talk to people.
Timeline to complete: 14 days
Get comfortable posting frequently to social media
Take friends and family on your journey with you. Pull them into your story and get them excited, whether it’s through blog posts, social media status updates, emails or your communications medium(s) of choice. Once you are ready to launch, believe me, they will be eager to support you.
Timeline to complete: ongoing/it never ends!
Make connections and be fearless about asking for introductions
Now that you have polled friends, family and acquaintances and have announced on social media that you’re working on launching a company, you need to start making connections and pricing out vendors, suppliers, etc. For Sat Nam babe for example, this meant finding a fashion designer who could bring my ideas for a kids yoga clothes line to life, as well as a sample maker/pattern maker who could make me some samples.
Figure out who you need to speak with and do it. Be fearless in asking for introductions from your network and ask a lot of questions, as that’s the only way you will learn. Figure out approximately how much launching your MVP will cost and add 30% to that estimate. Unexpected costs ALWAYS come up. And it’s called an MVP because it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be perfect enough to launch phase 1 so you can start to test the concept in market
Timeline to complete: 30-45 days
Raise capital to launch your MVP through crowdfunding
Don’t go into debt to launch your company, just don’t. And don’t quit your day job. I have been working on Sat Nam babe for a year and still have a part time job to pay the bills. You don’t want the stress of launching a business and trying to pay bills from this baby of a company still in its testing stages; this sounds like a recipe for major burnout. You don’t even know at this point whether you have a viable business. Plan to raise funds through crowdfunding, on a site such as iFundWomen. Crowdfunding is a low risk, early way to test an MVP in front of a real market.
Timeline to complete: 6 months (this timeline is from when you hire someone to shoot your crowdfunding video* to completion of raising funds through your crowdfunding campaign)
Cost: Most crowdfunding sites take 8% of what you raise, so figure that into your crowdfunding goal.
*Do NOT spend an arm and leg on a perfect crowdfunding video. Find an eager student to do it. Believe me, the costs of launching a company can be daunting and the last thing you want to spend a ton of $ on is a crowdfunding video and be in debt even before you’ve launched your company.
I raised money, now what?!
After my iFundWomen crowdfunding campaign ended, I definitely had this feeling of, now what? I found myself slowly building out my own website and starting to find my footing, with no prior experience in e-commerce or kids clothing.
From here, much of the early stages of running a company are intuitive and also pure trial and error. Have I ever launched a company? No. Do I have a technical fashion design background? No. But take the skills you have (for me, I have a marketing, PR, writing background) and make those skills work for you. And leverage those free resources as much as you need to. Repeat: do NOT pay for anything you can get for gratis this early on, and believe me, you can get A LOT for free.
You’ll never truly be ready to launch a company, but if it’s been a lifelong dream, pull that rug out from under you and go for it. Go through the above motions and commit to the timeline. It may sound scary and feel daunting (and yes, launching a business IS), but when it launches, you will truly feel like “holy cow! I created something really really cool!”